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Celebrating 50 Years of the Peace Corps: ‘What You Get Back is Infinitely More’

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, the Career Center is sponsoring an exhibit at the Dining Hall, featuring alumni experiences with the organization. The college’s records indicate that approximately 40 alumni have volunteered over the years.

Each day, Dec. 12-16, news.hiram.edu will profile one alumni experience. Please continue to check back, and be sure to stop by the Dining Hall exhibit by Dec. 16 to learn even more.

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Name: Mike Swetye ‘69

Major at Hiram: Economics

Swetye served in the Cote d’Ivoire (West Africa) from 1970-72, in the first ever business development program the Peace Corps offered. The program was intended for those who had already earned a masters degree in business administration, but Swetye was accepted, having only completed one year toward his MBA.

Why did you decide to join the Peace Corps?

Swetye joined the Peace Corps for the opportunities it offered him to learn about economic development, which later became his career.

He had also spent part of his junior year at Hiram in France, so he was intrigued by French-speaking regions of Africa.

How did your service enhance your education and career?

In his two years serving in the Peace Corps, Swetye served in two different jobs. First, he worked in the capital city, Abidjan, helping small to medium sized businesses develop marketing plans and applications for loans. In the second part of his service, he went further north in the country to set up a cocoa and coffee cooperative among about 20 isolated villages in the region.

He said he has no doubt that his Peace Corps experience gave him a more worldly view, which led him to hold jobs in commercial banking in New York City, the World Bank in Washington, D.C., and at a Fortune 500 company.

“All that was a direct result of initially going to France, and then graduate school and the Peace Corps,” he said.

What are your most vivid memories?

Swetye remembers the very candid picture of the northern Cote d’Ivoire villages the first night he arrived there. After traveling 10 hours on dirt roads through the jungle, he arrived in the intended village around midnight as a funeral was taking place.

Drums were beating, and the villagers were dressed in their traditional African wear, but painted white. Swetye said that night gave him a glimpse into the spirit of the village.

“That night, I will always remember,” he said.

Swetye also married his wife during his service in the Cote d’Ivoire. The two originally met while Swetye was studying in Paris while a student at Hiram, and then reconnected in his first year of graduate school.

What advice would you share for a student considering the Peace Corps?

He contributes much of his career in economics to his Peace Corps experience and “absolutely” recommends it.

“You contribute a lot, but what you get back is infinitely more than what you contribute,” he said. “It’s not easy. You have to be of a certain temperament, but it was a great experience.”

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